Just before Christmas I visited a man who has been incarcerated. We have been friends for a long time. The recent circumstances of my friend’s life have motivated me to remain close to him.
During the course of our conversation, I asked, “What seems to cause you the greatest struggle?” He lowered his head. After a brief silence, he tearfully responded, “I question, Will I ever experience true happiness again?” He continued haltingly, pensively, rehearsing the actions of his past that had put him out of touch from all that once meant everything to him.
The book of Nehemiah traces the actions of Nehemiah in leading the rebuilding of Jerusalem. The sin of the nation of Israel had placed them far from their beloved homeland. The Bible has a lot to say about the “wages of sin.” Sin always leads us to places that we don’t want to be.
We don’t know all of the sentiments of Nehemiah as he lived through the “prison” of his captivity. There must have been something about his character, in spite of his circumstances, that caused his rise to being cupbearer to the king. I have often heard that the isolation of imprisonment only enhances ones skills as a law breaker. Nehemiah was different. His character remained in tact. He was promoted to a trustworthy job. There were reasons for him to be a happy captive.
Any peace of mind that he might have had was destroyed, however, as he conversed with one of his fellows who had just returned from Jerusalem. He simply asked his friend a question. “How are things going in Judah?” Hearing a description of the fallen down walls of Jerusalem and the gates being burned with fire stole any contentment that he once had.
My imprisoned friend has often said to me, “If I could just find a “re-wind” button. If I could somehow erase the wrong that I have done. If I could somehow heal the hurt. But I can’t.” Why should his face not be sad?
Nehemiah couldn’t hold back the tears. He mourned for days. His visits to the king couldn’t conceal his sadness. It was on one of those days of sadness that the king questioned his cupbearer. “Why is your face so sad, since you are not sick?” Nehemiah responded with a question of his own. “Why should my face not be sad? The city, the place of my fathers tombs, lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire?” Nehemiah 2:3
The tears of Nehemiah and the nobility of King Artaxerxes, resulted in the end of a sad story. Nehemiah was granted release to return to his homeland for the purpose of rebuilding the city of Jerusalem.
WHY SHOULD MY FACE NOT BE SAD?
Statistics make it clear that some people cannot survive life outside of prison. Years of bondage seem to acclimate some to the security that imprisonment provides.
The Christian life is not a call to perpetual sadness. There is reason, however to experience sadness in a world like ours. Our recent Christmas season became clouded as we were forced to ponder the actions of a lone gunman who masacred more than twenty small school children. “Why should my face not be sad?”
The words of an old Gospel song seem to catch the sentiments of my remarks. “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through. My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue. The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door and I can’t feel at home in this world any more.”
Paul captured these thoughts another way. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Romans 8:18
Like my incarceraed friend, like Nehemiah, like Paul, let’s not get so acclimated to the prison of the present that we lose the capacity to be saddened by “the wages of sin.”
“Why should my face not be sad?”
Farewell, my blogging group. It’s been a fun year.